Axelrod on the Powell Endorsement, Why McCain and Palin Are Good for Obama

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.—Barack Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod said this afternoon that the endorsement of his candidate by Colin Powell had “slammed the door” on attempts by Republicans to suggest that there is something less than patriotic about the Democratic presidential contender.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Thursday referred to “pro-America areas” of the country, seeming to imply that the label was synonymous with political conservatism. The following day, Representative Michelle Bachmann asserted on MSNBC’s Hardball that Obama “may have anti-American views.”

Axelrod, who spoke to me as Obama addressed a crowd of approximately 10,000 at the Crown Center Coliseum here, asserted that Powell is “seen as an American statesman, and people understand that. When he makes an endorsement, he makes it from the standpoint of the country.”

Axelrod also said that Powell’s endorsement might be “a source of encouragement” for voters who had hitherto harbored doubts about supporting Obama. “And for Republicans who are disaffected, I think he articulated their views very, very well,” he said.

The Obama team has been buoyed by unusually large crowds in recent days – including 100,000 who gathered beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis yesterday, making that rally the largest domestic event of the campaign to date—and by a record-breaking fund-raising haul of more than $150 million for the month of September.

Axelrod asserted that one of the reasons for the late-breaking increase in grass-roots enthusiasm was the nature of the Republican campaign, which he claimed had been negative to a counterproductive degree.

“There are a lot of voters who are disgusted with the tone of the Republican campaign, and part of that has been manifested in increased small donations to our campaign,” Axelrod told me. “I think Senator McCain and Governor Palin have helped us immeasurably. I don’t necessarily think it’s good for the country, but I think people are expressing themselves by volunteering, by showing up at rallies and by contributing to the campaign.”

Obama himself spoke to Powell around 10 a.m., the campaign said. In addition to thanking the former secretary of state for his endorsement, Obama told Powell during the 10-minute conversation that he looked forward to taking his advice up until the election and “hopefully” over the next four years.

Obama also opened his speech here by paying tribute to Powell: “This morning, a great soldier, a great statesman, and a great American has endorsed our campaign to change America. I have been honored to have the benefit of his wisdom and counsel from time to time over the last few years, but today, I am beyond honored and deeply humbled to have the support of General Colin Powell,” he said.

Obama also addressed the attacks upon his sense of patriotism: “We can have a tough contest … but we’ve got to have a line that we don’t cross,” he said. “There are no real or fake parts of this country. We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this nation—we all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from.”

Obama told the crowd that such attacks were an attempt to distract voters from the real issues.

“No matter what they do, you will have the chance to walk into that voting booth, and close that curtain, and say, ‘Not this time. Not this year,'” he said, to cheers.